In 2002, after a five-year stint as a technical advisor, a young Michael Butler was named Interim Executive Director of the Tennessee Conservation League. While it was a big promotion, it was also a big risk. The well-established nonprofit was in a world of pain due to financial difficulties and lack of resources, which was surprising for an organization with such a rich pedigree of accomplishments. He knew, however, that with risk comes reward so Michael optimistically accepted the task of addressing the lack of money, rebuilding the organization from the ground up, and developing new strategies to expand the League’s reach across the state.
Beyond settling the budget, Michael knew that the mission resonated with the public, but the organization struggled with awareness. The name Tennessee Conservation League lacked specificity about the organization’s focus of our conservation efforts. What’s in a name, you ask? Michael knew it was everything. In 2004, the Tennessee Conservation League was renamed Tennessee Wildlife Federation, to better encompass the organization’s focus on wildlife and wild places.
Over the past 20 years, Tennessee Wildlife Federation helped secure a number of big wins for conservation across our state. Standing next to the trailer releasing elk back into the mountains in East Tennessee is among Michael’s favorite moments. In 2011, he led a coalition of conservation organizations to help pass the Constitutional Amendment for the Right to Hunt and Fish. But even more than the big victories, Michael is proud of the collective small wins and staff accomplishments at the Federation over the years.
“I’m proud of all that our staff has accomplished,” Michael said. “We have one of the most successful youth shooting sports programs in the country. We have one of the most successful hunting and fishing R3 programs in the country. We have one of the most successful Hunters for the Hungry programs in the country. These are things we’ve been able to grow and sustain.”
It’s been an eventful 20 years for Michael, and he is nowhere near done with his work in conservation. He is excited about the current opportunities, including expanding our stewardship and restoration programs and energized by collaborations with partners like the University of Tennessee.
“There has never been a more optimistic time for me in this job. We have a resourceful board, we have a talented staff, and now is the time to go do (more) big things.”